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Amazon’s Largest NYC Warehouse Reports its First Case of Coronavirus

The 2,500-worker warehouse remains open for business, as New York City braces for the worst of the coronavirus outbreak.

by Lauren Kaori Gurley
Mar 24 2020, 11:35pm

 JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

Amazon has confirmed that at least one worker at its largest New York City warehouse tested positive for Covid-19. The facility, which is located in Staten Island and called JFK8, remains open.

On Tuesday, custodians at the 2,500-worker facility sanitized and cleaned, while workers continued to pick and pack boxes for delivery and received little information from management, according to Athena, a national coalition of 50 grassroots organizations working to challenge Amazon’s corporate power. Amazon warehouse workers with Athena claim that multiple workers at the Staten Island Warehouse have tested positive, but Amazon has only confirmed one so far.

“We are supporting the individual who is recovering,” a spokesperson for Amazon told Motherboard. “We are following all guidelines from local officials and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.

The spokesperson said that the infected worker had last visited the warehouse on March 11, and the warehouse did not close in response to the infection. They also said Amazon is currently consulting with health authorities on how to handle building closures for deep cleaning when employees test positive for Covid-19, and that that process includes an evaluation of where the infected employee worked, how long they worked, and how much time had passed since an employee was in a building, among other factors.

"I'm scheduled to work on Saturday and Sunday, but I'm scared especially finding out that they had a positive case and didn't shut down the warehouse or nothing," Rina Cummings, who inspects packages on the ship dock at the Staten Island Amazon warehouse told Motherboard. "I don't get how they can get away with that stuff. It's not right. There are a lot of people who work there, and who take a crowded bus to work together. They can call what they're doing social distancing but with the way that virus spreads, it's not enough."

Another current warehouse worker at the JFK8 facility who wished to remain anonymous because he feared of retaliation told Motherboard that management first informed workers of the case Tuesday before their lunch break, nearly two weeks after the infected employee last visited the facility. That worker said management told them to wipe down their stations with extra Clorox wipes on Tuesday and to continue working.

“It’s basically been business as normal here,” that worker, who is a picker and counter at the Staten Island warehouse, told Motherboard. “But I left early today after I heard the news, and I don’t know if I want to go to work for the rest of the week. I am mad that they didn’t tell us earlier. A lot of workers are really worried."

The outbreak in the Staten Island facility follows reports of workers shutting down an Amazon distribution center in Queens after a worker tested positive on March 18. Warehouses in Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Florida have also reported cases over the past week. The growing number of workers infected with coronavirus in Amazon’s supply chain marks a looming threat to the e-commerce giant’s operations—particularly in New York City, which has become the global epicenter of the pandemic in recent days. The Staten Island fulfillment center employs workers from all five boroughs.

So far, Amazon, as well as its subsidiary Whole Foods, are seeing increased sales as customers stock up on goods and groceries, have resisted closures in the face of employee outbreaks.

As millions of Americans hunker down in their homes for the worst of the outbreak, Amazon and Whole Foods workers across the country have been working on the frontlines of the pandemic to provide basic necessities to customers. The company has earned record sales but refused to offer unlimited sick days to workers—forcing them to choose between working sick or suffering a lost paycheck. Meanwhile, Amazon’s corporate employees have been instructed to work from home.

Meanwhile, Amazon, which made over $280 billion in revenue and nearly $12 billion in profits in 2019, has not offered to provide any paid sick leave to its massive contracted workforce, even when they test positive for coronavirus. Instead, the company set up a “Relief Fund” for its contracted workers and is soliciting donations from the public for the fund.

Amazon has offered all of its employees an additional $2 an hour through April and two weeks of paid sick leave only if they test positive for coronavirus.

“The fundamental problem here is one that predates the crisis,” said Dania Rajendra, the director of Athena told Motherboard. “This is a time of intense anxiety for almost everybody, especially people who live paycheck to paycheck. It is unconscionable that Amazon is exacerbating our anxiety by failing to let folks know what to expect when workers get sick.”

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